Who’s Watching You

The Sheriff has managed to put herself on the spot. Pretending to be transparent in the last moments of the process, this time it’s being questioned. This isn’t the first time she’s been hush-hush about Homeland Security money expenditures, but this little gadget is a bit different. This gadget can track your cell phones.

Now there is an argument for this equipment and a good one. One can not say, in the face of finding missing persons, endangered persons, or tracking someone we believe may be planning a serious attack, or finding someone who just committed such attack (think active shooter incident at LeHigh Quarry), that there is no valued added purpose to this equipment. The primary problem I see with this argument is that the Sheriff’s Office is notorious for pushing things aside. Sierra Lamar for instance — if used when she was first reported missing, perhaps there would have been a chance of finding her. Problem was that the Sheriff’s Office, as we’ve laid out previously, delayed the investigation, even after her clothing and cell phone were found laying on the ground, it was far to late for a piece of equipment like this.

Also, there is a growing concern about the “militarization” and overall invasiveness of certain police procedures. So much so that President Obama has issued an Executive Order to create a working group that attempts to do several things: a) ensure equipment being issued has appropriate uses in law enforcement; b) ensure that the departments have an understanding of how equipment inappropriately used can violate a person’s rights; and c) ensure that prior to recieving such equipment the department have a solid policy for deployment and personnel are trained in all aspects of appropriate use.

As far as we know, the Sheriff has ensured none of this, and with her strong aversion to written policy, I can’t imagine she could produce one today if asked, despite the time frame involved. I would hope to be surprised and proven wrong, but given the history on policy development, I doubt it.

The thought crossed my mind that a better handler for this equipment would be the District Attorney’s office. Since this is a piece of equipment that would generally require a warrant, for the price should also be available to all agencies in the county, they can ensure proper legal use of the equipment by any given department. The sheriff was notably not endorsed by every major agency in the county, other than SJPD who wasn’t brave enough to actually endorse anyone, for a good reason — it was said over and over again. Because our sheriff does not work and play well with others. Being Homeland Security money, this is a county resource, the DA’s office is a county agency with the legal wherewithall to support this equipment.

One example of why the Sheriff’s Office should not be trusted is their lack of public transparency on this very issue. Even though they issued a press release announcing the public meeting held this past Friday, the entire February agenda was not released this month on the Sheriff’s News Room. Despite other press releases being put out on their social media sites, (Twitter and Facebook), this press release was not to be found there either. What better place to post a public notice of a public meeting than on the sites meant to enlighten the public? The monthly agenda didn’t make it up to the public posting boards in the office this month either. Despite this grant effort being headed up by the PIO, Kurtis Stenderup, a person who has been relatively active developing social media practices, this press release seems to have been released to a very limited audience. I’ve confirmed Friday afternoon that several media sources received the release sometime prior to the meeting, I’m still looking into their sites to determine if any one of them mentioned it to the public prior to Friday morning.  I wasn’t the only one looking for the meeting information either.

If they’ve been thinking about this since 2012, were granted an allocation of funds in 2013, and those funds were approved for disbursement in 2014, as claimed, why are we just now having meetings and hearing about this mere days before the order needs to be in place to beat grant expiration dates? Is 2 years not long enough to start a discussion? Or did we not want to have the discussion that might have not allowed the sheriff to have this equipment? Where was the discussion about this during the election? Clearly the grant was already in process. Claiming transparency now is laughable, but predictable. This appears to be nothing more than a manufactured crisis against a deadline in an attempt to overcome or move faster than public scrutiny.

They attempt to assure us that the county counsel is involved in this. This should give the public no reassurances considering the same person caused an uproar with her decision that violating the first amendment rights of county employees was legal. If she doesn’t care about the county worker’s right to free speech, she surely doesn’t care any more so about your 4th amendement rights. She’s already proven her lack of credibility.

Again, rather than lose this equipment, because as I stated at the outset, we need to make an effort to do this correctly despite the Sheriff’s Office lack of responsibility on this issue. The county should approve the expenditure with caveats — The equipment should be held by the County Board and no general access allowed until such a time as the following has occurred: An open discussion on who in the county is best to oversee usage (as mentioned prior, I feel the DA’s office may be a more appropriate overseer of this given the lack of public trust the Sheriff’s Office holds), the assurance that there is a clear understanding on how the equipment will and will not be used, a clear and concise written policy regarding the appropriate use of the equipment, and the assurances that personnel will be fully trained to understand how to use the equipment with minimal risk of rights violations.

This would be the fair thing to do. The equipment is useful, but it appears the Sheriff has attempted to undermine public involvement regarding a very serious piece of equipment. Simple approval and handing the equipment over to the Sheriff at this point in the game is simply unacceptable.

Reading the memo to the county (go to page 336) the Sheriff states more information will be brought to the County Board of Supervisors, including what came from the public meeting, on Tuesday February 24th when she seeks final county approval on this matter. If you were unable to attend the public meeting, County Board meetings are open to the public – The Board meets in the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose. Meetings begin at 9:00am.

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  1. Pingback: Stingray and Lack of Transparency Risks Prosecution | Casey Thomas' World

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